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The London V&A Museum has just announced the induction of CINDY CHAO The Art Jewel’s exquisite Peony Brooch into its William and Judith Bollinger Gallery. The 2018 Black Label Masterpiece XVIII creation from jewelry designer Cindy Chao, the masterful piece now finds itself at home amid some of the world’s most famous jewels—like those belonging to Queen Victoria and Catherine the Great of Russia—making Chao the first female Asian contemporary jewelry designer featured in the gallery.
Chao’s third design to be displayed in a major museum, the one-of-a-kind flower-shaped masterpiece began as a commission from a friend hoping to repurpose a family heirloom. After the original wearer became extremely ill, Chao’s design transformed from a simple pair of earrings into a magnificent peony, which is a symbol of prosperity and the love of family and friendship.
A decade in the making, the Peony Brooch has been crafted from purple titanium and is set in its entirety with 3,153 glittering rubies. The epitome of Chao’s careful craftsmanship and expertise, each of the jewels has been mounted within a honeycomb structure to maintain a lightweight wearability—the result of an in-depth process incorporating an ancient wax carving technique to create the perfect shape for the brooch’s detailed petals.
To learn more about the design and the honor of being featured in the V&A, Whitewall caught up with the designer.
WHITEWALL: How does it feel to have your Peony Brooch in the V&A Museum?
CINDY CHAO: It is a tremendous honor to see the induction of my Peony Brooch into the Victoria & Albert Museum. The work, which took a decade to finish, now joins some of the most exquisite jewelry collections in The William and Judith Bollinger Jewelry Gallery, becoming a legacy and a gift of love that keeps on giving to countless museum visitors from around the world.
WW: Can you tell us about the design of the brooch and its significance to you?
CC: The story of the Peony Brooch is deeply personal to me. It marks the completion of an emotional and technically challenging experience that took ten years to finish.
Shortly after I was commissioned by the client to transform her heirloom ruby necklace into a new and revitalized piece, she suffered an unexpected period of extreme ill health. I was heartbroken as I witnessed the fragility of life—one can fall into serious illness in only six months.
I decided to create the Peony Brooch as a reflection of her strength and our lasting friendship. After her miraculous recovery, our bond had grown even stronger, and the peony felt like the perfect symbol, celebrating the prosperity of life and the ever-lasting love of family and friendship.
I’m deeply proud of this piece and the accolades it has received, including the award bestowed by Masterpiece London, where it was debuted, in 2018. This induction strengthens the belief in my creative spirits that I have upheld since the first day I entered the jewelry industry—courage, perseverance, and determination.
WW: How is this piece representative of your creative approach to designing?
A: My journey to creating the Peony Brooch was truly spectacular and unique, however my process from design to finished work always starts with a centuries-old wax carving technique.
I firmly believe that if one is entirely devoted to something, striving for the best without compromise is the only way to shine, Over the course of ten years, I created over 20 designs in the initial wax carving model stage.
When I look back today, these ten years of creation [were the] epitome of life’s journey—every day you acquire new experiences from life, and they gradually steer you to become a better version of yourself and live in a better way. It is testament to my long pursuits of exquisite art jewel, vibrant design and pioneering European craftsmanship.
WW: What kind of dialogue is created when placing a modern creation like the Peony Brooch next to some of the world’s most treasured historic jewels?
CC: As the daughter of a sculptor and granddaughter of an architect, I grew up with a deep respect for the V&A’s commitment to design excellence through the ages. It is incredible to know that my work will provide inspiration and education to museum visitors and exist alongside such legendary pieces as The Heneage Jewel that Queen Elizabeth I gave to her courtier, the diamonds that belonged to Catherine the Great of Russia, and the emerald jewels given by French emperor Napoleon to his adopted daughter, to name but a few.
As the only Asian contemporary female jeweler whose creation will sit alongside such incredible jewels, it puts Asian contemporary jewelry on the same stage as significant pieces from history and is indisputable evidence that the values of jewelry from the Eastern world have been recognized.